12 April 2009

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do

First Word: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Lk 23,23)

The seven last words of Jesus start on the theme of forgiveness. He is crucified on the cross, severely bruised and in terrible pain, mocked and shamed by his tormentors, and the first words ascribed to him are “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”.

These are words that do not fail to inspire and perplex. Even in the worst of suffering, Jesus still preached and embodied the Father’s mercy. The magnanimity of His expression is made more manifest if we reflect upon our own responses to situations of unjust suffering. Would we be so similarly instantaneous, Christ-like in our dispensing of forgiveness? Or would we view such response as an expression of giving-up too early, of resignation to the futility of our quest for justice?

I remember Rapu-Rapu and the sufferings of its people. The Diocese of Legazpi and many concerned groups and individuals, fought alongside them in resisting the large-scale mining operations of Lafayette on their island since 1999. Nowadays the mining operations project themselves as RRMI and RRPI. I remember the series of fish kills in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The fish kill in 2006 happened within the period of a DENR mandated test-run. I remember the arrogance and callousness of many government and mining company officials. I remember the suffering of the people – the dwindling fish catch, hunger, harassment, health problems, uncertain future, and the pain of hearing hard facts twisted and their sentiments misrepresented on national media.

Should the residents of Rapu-Rapu, and we who help them, also have to be so willing and ready to dispense forgiveness as Jesus did? How would such act benefit our cause? Forgiveness seems so out of touch with our situation. Or is it really? There is an admittedly strange attractive power, a sense of liberation even, when a victim utters Jesus' line.

To forgive doesn’t necessarily mean to give-up. To forgive may also mean to let go, or more precisely, to let God. To forgive is to acknowledge that though we seek justice and resist oppression, we can still go beyond our human claims and dispositions and seek affinity with the divine. To forgive is to trust that the power and providence of God is greater than the evil that resides in the hearts of those who do us harm.

To say that they do not know what they do does not mean being co-opted to our oppressors’ web of lies or dismissing their acts as mere human failings. For indeed they are still responsible for their actions. It is an acknowledgment rather that, despite their skills in manipulating truth and handling morally dubious negotiations, they are still practically ignorant of the great power of God working in all things. In short, it is an acknowledgment that there is hope for them still.

Am I just fooling myself when I say this? Am I in a state of wishful thinking? Let me tell you what is clear and present to me about the current mining situation in our country. It is the DENR that identifies sites as suitable for mining; and advertises those sites for mining investors, conveniently downgrading environmental harm. It is the DENR that grants MPSAs without consulting local residents, and ECCs even without social acceptability. It is the same DENR that admits it cannot sufficiently monitor the operation of mining companies; and then connives with mining officials to cover-up incidents of mishaps and fish kills. When a company like Lafayette fails, it is the DENR that scurries to look for other investors in order to “save” the project. And should we seek legal action, it is the DENR who will first receive our complaints and judge their merits.

Could we actually dream of receiving a fair hearing from the current DENR? Maybe not yet in the present nor in the near future, but I am still filled with hope that the situation can and will change for the better. Otherwise, the options left would either be indeed giving-up, or going over less enlightened paths.

Lastly, “Forgive them for they do not know what they do” are words spoken by Jesus to victims and their advocates as well. It is a gentle reminder that even as we fight for justice we cannot lose the best parts of our humanity. It is a solemn promise that just as Jesus Christ transcended hate and injustice, and then triumphed over sin and death, so we too will find our victory in the end.

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